Years ago, I was wandering around West Broadway in Soho, (this, before the West Broadway became a big fancy shopping mall and the galleries moved West), and I saw a big to-do around one gallery entrance. Getting to know me better, you will find that my interest is always piqued by any kind of hub-bub. I’ll rubber neck and gawk toward any anomaly of the usual.
Anyway, I squeezed past the smokers, lingerers, pre-hipsters*, artsy types, and into the crowded, claustrophobic refrigerator sized New York City elevator. Someone was able to slide their finger past two bodies to hit the button and up and up we jerked to the 4th floor where the doors opened up right onto the gallery floor.
None (or few) of the hundreds of patrons were actually looking at the artwork, which is pretty typical of art openings, but I decided to give the artwork a once over before landing at the bar for a free white wine and snacks.
The artwork, mostly paintings as I remember was OK, better than student work, but nothing to write home about. Diminutive work with kind of blurry smoothed over images, one painting I remember of a wooden chair on a lawn near a tree. A lot of cadmium green light.
After a bit of art appreciation as it were, I decide to glance up to see how close I had gotten to the bar. As I gazed through the throng of people I saw someone familiar standing in the middle of the gallery, Martin Mull, the actor/comedian. It only took one more turn of my head to see his name written above the front desk of the gallery to have that ‘ahhhh’ moment.
I casually walked up to him and he seemed very accessible. I shook his hand and not really knowing what to say, I blurted out, “Wow, I didn’t know you painted.” Martin (Mr. Mull) stared at me and with the straightest face possible, said, “Well, I just took some art lessons this summer.” **
There was no smile, complete serious poker face. I wasn’t sure how to take it without him smiling. Was he fishing for a compliment? Like, “oh, your work is so beautiful, how can that be?” Was he just being a dick?
We stared at each other for another few seconds, and I, not knowing how to respond, did not say another word, turned away and headed to the bar to drink his wine.
Up until recently – now this has been at least 10-15 years – I just racked it up to being the fact that Martin Mull is a fucking dick. After seeing him at this opening, I had a difficult time watching him on TV or seeing reruns of Fernwood Tonight which I previously loved. But Martin taught me a lesson that day. I don’t think that was his intention, I’m sure he just wanted to be a dick. And I know why. I’ll bet that at least a hundred people asked him the same question that day as I had, “oh, I didn’t realize you painted…” And, in some way, he was sharing the same frustration that I experience every day being an artist, which is: Fuck! I went to art school for 6 years, no body really gives a shit, I may as well just be jerking off in the corner somewhere. Martin Mull was able to get a beautiful gallery to give him a show because he was famous for being a comedian and actor not an artist. No one attending the opening necessarily gave a shit about his art, no body cared that he struggled with his craft, no body really knew that he was an artist. So the lesson learned is… I’m not really sure now, is the lesson to become famous in some way – any way – to then be able to get a gallery show? Or is the lesson just to make art and be happy making art and if a gallery show at a great gallery comes along appreciate it? Hmmm.
So to Anthony Hopkins, Sylvester Stallone, Tony Curtis (I think you’re dead?), Viggo Mortenson, etc, have fun and make your art and in return I’ll try not to make too much fun of you.
* Pre-hipster: Previously thought of as Euro-Trash but not necessarily from Europe. Really anyone who wore too much leather. More recently, we are aware of the huge emigration of the now known ‘hipsters’ to Williamsburg and Greenpoint, this huge migration is rivaled only by Zionism and the creation of the Jewish State of Israel.
** As it turns out Martin Mull graduated from RISD with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s, which frankly means nothing to me anyway, artwork has to stand on it’s own. You can see some of his newer paintings that are actually pretty good at : http://www.renabranstengallery.com/mull.html